Virtual(ly) Reality: Philadelphia Artist Follows Rules When Posting Nude Portraits Online

“I get it. I’m using a free service with rules. If I want to post nudes: Tumblr.”

This is a quote from a recent interview with Philadelphia-based photographer Sarah Bloom, as she describes how she makes images from her most recent project available to online publics. For this project, which contemplates women’s physical aging process through situating it, and contrasting it, with that of industrial decay, Sarah takes nude photos of herself in abandoned buildings in Philadelphia. I find the images beautiful, stark, bleak, and hopeful. I also find Bloom’s relationship with risk in relation to the project fascinating. In many ways, the project seems heavily directed at subverting, de-privileging, discounting, undoing, and rethinking risk. For example, if we were to consider elements of risk in this project (rather normatively construed) we might begin to list the following. Taking nude photos: risky. Putting those nude photos online: risky. Publicly exploring your own physical vulnerability: risky. Sneaking into abandoned buildings to take the photos: risky. Simply put, Bloom could be seen as taking a lot of risks with this project. Yet, when it comes time to share the photos online, to share this work, Bloom, very interestingly, avoids all risk.

“Interviewer: Have you ever had any problems sharing them on Facebook?”

“SB: Nope. I’m a total complier. I comply completely. If there’s anything showing that’s not supposed to be seen, I don’t show it. And I moderate all of my stuff on Flickr like I’m supposed to.


In the context of her project, which appears to exhibit so much subtle defiance, I found this utter compliance really interesting. Instead of participating in something like the much-discussed “free the nipple” Instagram campaign, Bloom is clear about deferring to the administrative limits of the sites. In a moment when people are heavily using IT to contest their terms of living-being, to contest IT itself, as well as how IT is used, I found Bloom’s lack of contestation toward the strictures of participating in social digital platforms really provocative. Bloom follows the rules. Of course, yielding to the Facebook (etc.s) guidelines has benefits. More people see and learn about Bloom’s work. Bloom perhaps can use the medium to build her following, garner more support, do more work, and so on and so on. Much is written and discussed about all the forms of action that can be carried out through, with, or by technology (see Charis Thompson’s Making Parents for an excellent recent example dealing with biomedicine and reproduction); however, Bloom’s careful and pointed inaction seems to bear further thought. Here we see an artist’s mobilization, I wonder what other publics are carefully being technologically inactive, compliant, to reach other ends, and what projects and socialities this inactivity might be bound up in.

CLICK HERE for the full interview with Sarah Bloom

Featured image information
Creator: “JohannesW”
Copyright: CC0 Public Domain

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